James Turrell Turns on the Lights
by dawn-michelle baude
Even by Vegas standards, Akhob is mind-bending.
Las Vegas—the city synonymous with over-the-top stimulation—has a new wonder to behold: Akhob. A permanent, one-of-a-kind art installation by internationally renowned artist James Turrell, Akhob offers an unforgettable perceptual experience designed to prove that you don’t see with your eyes, you see with your mind.
Such a rarefied intention deserves a rarefied setting: the top floor of the Louis Vuitton store in The Shops at Crystals. The trend-setting fashion house has long collaborated with the 70-year-old avant-garde artist, whose mesmerizing work enhances the brand’s flagship store in Paris. The latest Vuitton commission coincides with Turrell’s tri-coastal exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. With smaller simultaneous shows in select European and American galleries, Turrell is arguably the most important living visual artist in the world.
Raised as a Quaker and trained in perceptual psychology, Turrell has spent five decades exploring the effects of light and space on perception. With artistic and scientific knowledge in equal measure, he manipulates light the way other artists manipulate paint, clay, or steel. He can thicken it, bend it, bleed it, even drop it. Among his most famous works are his Ganzfeld installations. “Ganzfeld” is a German scientific term for an environment in which uniform light disorients perception, the way a heavy snowstorm can make space and distance seem to disappear.
Akhob is Turrell’s largest, most amazing Ganzfeld to date, and the only one that visitors explore privately. Chaperoned by Vuitton staff, they arrive via elevator at the Akhob reception area, where dimmed lights, dark paint, and understated furnishings allow the eyes to adjust and the mind to prepare. At the installation’s entrance, guests exchange shoes for booties, then mount a short staircase and enter the first of two “viewing chambers” bathed in jewel-colored light. The floors gently slope toward a volume of gorgeous light, the “sensing space,” which appears solid and infinite by turns, both wall and window, immediate and distant. The temptation is to reach through, into the azure or ruby color field, to physically touch and feel the material of light.
The experience is nothing short of invigorating. Over the next 24 minutes, colors flow and awareness expands, accompanied by joy. From the end of the installation, the oval entrance turns into an eye. And Turrell has succeeded once again: You’re looking at yourself, looking. By appointment only, Thursday–Monday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., 702-730-3150
photography courtesy of Louis Vuitton
We go behind the scenes with our cover star.